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Venezuela’s Socialists begin path to reform

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro holds a photo of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez during the meeting between China and CELAC at the Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia yesterday.

Internal and external pressure, economic crisis force Maduro to redefine party’s direction

CARACAS — Members of the Venezuelan Socialist Party (PSUV) voted yesterday to elect the 537 delegates who will participate in the party’s Third Congress as the movement struggles to regain the unity it once had under late president Hugo Chávez.

The members of the PSUV hope that the meet will allow the party to find the direction it lost after Chávez died of cancer in March last year. An ideological revision is also on the meeting’s agenda.

The election of President Nicolás Maduro as the party’s leader will also be officialized during the congress, as well as the designation of Chávez as the “eternal president of the organization.”

According to figures provided by the party, 7.6 million people form the PSUV and at least 5,156 were hoping to get elected to the congress, which will take place in Caracas from July 26-31.

The National Electoral Council has set up 1,932 voting stations in the country’s 335 municipalities.

Hard times

The ruling party is going through difficult times, with several former Chávez allies turning against Maduro and months of anti-government protests complicating the administration. Soaring inflation and the shortage of some basic goods has added to the mix.

Differences within the party became evident recently when former Planning minister Jorge Giordani — one of Chávez’s closest advisers — said in an open letter that Maduro “fails to transmit leadership,” which creates “a power vacuum situation” and “clears the way for the reinstatement of financial mechanisms” in Venezuela.

Another close Chávez ally, former Education minister Héctor Navarro, publicly agreed with Giordani and was suspended from the PSUV.

In his letter, Giordani questioned Maduro’s allocation of “massive resources to all of those who ask for them without a fiscal programme framed within a Socialist plan.” Navarro said Giordani shouldn’t be branded a “traitor” for his claims and expressed the need for the allegations to be investigated.

The backlash has highlighted Maduro's struggles in living up to the legendary charisma of the late Chávez, whose combative oratory and generous social spending made him one of the continent's most popular leaders.

It also renews focus on the creaking system of state economic controls as inflation soars above 60 percent and growth slows sharply.

US funds

The economic crisis has been one of the main triggers of three months of anti-government protests that Maduro weathered this year and which left more than 40 people dead and hundreds injured

The president has repeatedly blamed the “US-funded opposition” for the violence and has accused Washington of meddling in his country’s domestic affairs.

A recent investigation by the AP showed that, indeed, US dollars have been flowing to opposition groups, despite the administration’s efforts to stop the funds from reaching Venezuela.

According to public documents reviewed by AP, the US State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy, a government-funded nonprofit organization, together budgeted about US$7.6 million to support Venezuelan groups last year alone.

That was 15 percent more than they collectively authorized in 2009, the year before then-President Hugo Chávez pushed Venezuela’s Congress to ban such funding in the name of protecting the country’s sovereignty from groups it views as the opposition.

In Washington, the Senate is considering a bill to boost State Department aid to pro-democracy groups in Venezuela from about five million dollars to US$15 million amid calls for a tougher line against Venezuela after Maduro cracked down on anti-government protests.

A similar version cleared by the House would maintain current funding levels.

It’s unclear whether the government has been unable to enforce the law against such funding, or is simply uninterested. The sweeping 2010 ban on foreign donations subjects violators to fines of as much as twice all foreign money received, and bars them from running for public office. Foreigners in Venezuela who provide such aid can be deported.

Herald with AP

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